Quo Vadis? (Where are you going?)

Despite the constant Roman Catholic flavoring, the book Ironies of Faith by Anthony Esolen is an edifying read. I am not done yet, but the fourth chapter “The Meek Do Inherit the Earth” ends with a couple of long-ish quotations from “Quo Vadis?” by an author named Sienkiewicz.

The context of the quote is that Peter (the Apostle) is told by the people in Rome that he needs to leave so that Nero doesn’t get to him and kill him (during the wave of Neronic persecutions that took so many of the faithful first-century saints). He is heading away from Rome when he sees a figure stepping out from the sun which his servant, Nazarius, did not see. This quotation is what immediately occurs after the vision.

He fell with his face to the earth, as if kissing some one’s feet.
The silence continued long; then were heard the words of the aged man, broken by sobs–“Quo vadis, Domine?”
Nazarius did not hear the answer; but to Peter’s ears came a sad and sweet voice, which said,–“If thou desert my people, I am going to Rome to be crucified a second time.”
The Apostle lay on the ground, his face in the dust, without motion or speech. It seemed to Nazarius that he had fainted or was dead; but he rose at last, seized the staff with trembling hands, and turned without a word toward the seven hills of the city.
The boy, seeing this, repeated as an echo,–“Quo vadis, Domine?”
“To Rome,” said the Apostle, in a low voice.
And he returned.

The irony that Esolen draws from this whole idea before he quotes the next long-ish section of the story of Peter’s martyrdom is the fact that it is through the death of Peter and the deaths of countless others that brought the Church to the fore and toppled the evil Empire in the end. That through death, comes Life. Same Old Story. The next quote has even more significant Roman Catholicism laced into it, but I think it is an amazing quote for the story (considering the thousand and some years of acknowledged Roman primacy in the Church). Of course, I disagree with that, but try to put yourself in the scene described in this (fictional for the most part) account of Peter’s martyrdom for our Lord. It is a powerful scene, and though I doubt Peter would presume upon temporal authority as “king” of Rome, he, with us, are truly “kings and priests” in the world, but not of the world. We shouldn’t be ashamed of that reality. I hope that we can make the statement Peter makes at the end and know that Jesus has claimed all of the political nonsense that we go through and says “mine!” to every little person and place of authority on earth as in heaven. Let us not be ashamed to preach that word to people. “If Jesus is Lord, then Caesar isn’t.” I think it is as controversial today as it was for the time of Peter.

The Apostle, with his head in the sun-rays and golden light, turned for the last time towards the city. At a distance lower down was seen the gleaming Tiber; beyond was the Campus Martius; higher up, the Mausoleum of Augustus; below that, the gigantic baths just begun by Nero; still lower, Pompey’s theatre; and beyond them were visible in places, and in places hidden by the other buildings, the Septa Julia, a multitude of porticos, temples, columns, great edifices; and finally, far in the distance, hills covered with houses, a gigantic resort of people, the borders of which vanished in the blue haze,–an abode of crime, but of power; of madness, but of order,–which had become the head of the world, its oppressor, but its law and its peace, almighty, invincible, eternal.
But Peter, surrounded by soldiers, looked at the city as a ruler and king looks at his inheritance. And he said to it, “Thou art redeemed and mine!” And no one, not merely among the soldiers digging the hole in which to plant the cross, but even among true believers, could divine that standing there among them was the true ruler of that moving life.

Jesus is the true ruler, and we come bearing his authority in the Church and are given all things so that all will bow the knee to Christ. With the courage of Peter, we should be encouraged.

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